Jonathan Edwards

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Edwards, Jonathan,

1703–58, American theologian and metaphysician, b. East Windsor (then in Windsor), Conn. He was a precocious child, early interested in things scientific, intellectual, and spiritual. After graduating from Yale at 17, he studied theology, preached (1722–23) in New York City, tutored (1724–26) at Yale, and in 1727 became the colleague of his grandfather, Solomon Stoddard, in the ministry at Northampton, Mass. In 1729, on his grandfather's death, Edwards took sole charge of the congregation. The young minister was not long in gaining a wide following by his forceful preaching and powerful logic. These abilities were in the best Calvinist tradition and were enriched by his reading in philosophy, notably BerkeleyBerkeley, George
, 1685–1753, Anglo-Irish philosopher and clergyman, b. Co. Kilkenny, Ireland. Educated at Trinity College, Dublin, he became a scholar and later a fellow there. Most of Berkeley's important work in philosophy was done in his younger years.
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 and LockeLocke, John
, 1632–1704, English philosopher, founder of British empiricism. Locke summed up the Enlightenment in his belief in the middle class and its right to freedom of conscience and right to property, in his faith in science, and in his confidence in the goodness of
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Edwards's favorite themes were predestination and the absolute dependence of humble man upon God and divine grace, which alone could save humanity. He rejected with fire the Arminian (see RemonstrantsRemonstrants
, Dutch Protestants, adherents to the ideas of Jacobus Arminius, whose doctrines after his death (1609) were called Arminianism. They were Calvinists but were more liberal and less dogmatic than orthodox Calvinists and diverged from the teachings of the Dutch
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) modification of these Calvinist doctrines. He exhorted his hearers with great effect and in 1734–35 held a religious revival in Northampton that in effect brought the Great AwakeningGreat Awakening,
series of religious revivals that swept over the American colonies about the middle of the 18th cent. It resulted in doctrinal changes and influenced social and political thought. In New England it was started (1734) by the rousing preaching of Jonathan Edwards.
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 to New England. Edwards was stern in demanding strict orthodoxy and fervent zeal from his congregation. He was unbending in a controversy over tests for church membership, and in 1750 his congregation dismissed him from Northampton. At Stockbridge, Mass., where he went to care for the Native American mission and to minister to a small white congregation, he completed his theological masterpiece, The Freedom of the Will (1754), which sets forth metaphysical and ethical arguments for determinism. In 1757 Edwards was called to be president of the College of New Jersey (now Princeton), but he died a few months later.

Edwards's influence on American Christian thought was immense for a time, and he is often regarded as the last of the great New England Calvinists. However, his emphasis on personal religious experience and his use of the revival, leading to the Great Awakening, were partially responsible for the advent of evangelical revivalism, which was based on a belief contrary to Calvinist doctrine—that salvation was possible without predestined election. His theological writings are perhaps less read today than his more casual writings and some of his burning and poetic sermons, such as Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God and God Glorified in the Work of Redemption by the Greatness of Man's Dependence on Him in the Whole of It.


See his works, ed. by P. Miller et al. (9 vol., 1957–89) and short selection ed. by C. H. Faust and T. H. Johnson (1935); bibliography, Printed Works of Jonathan Edwards (ed. by T. H. Johnson, 1940, repr. 1970); biographies by O. E. Winslow (1940, repr. 1973), P. Miller (1949), E. M. Griffin (1971), P. Tracy (1980), and G. M. Marsden (2003); N. Fiering, Jonathan Edward's Moral Thought in its British Context (1981); N. O. Hatch, ed. Jonathan Edwards and the American Experience (1988).

Edwards, Jonathan,

the younger, 1745–1801, American theologian, b. Northampton, Mass., grad. College of New Jersey (now Princeton), 1765; son of Jonathan Edwards (1703–58). His career in some ways paralleled that of his famous father. After serving as pastor of a New Haven church from 1769 to 1795, he was dismissed for opposing the Half-Way CovenantHalf-Way Covenant,
a doctrinal decision of the Congregational churches in New England. The first generation of Congregationalists had decided that only adults with personal experience of conversion were eligible to full membership but that children shared in the covenant of
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. Until 1799 he was pastor at Colebrook, Conn. Edwards was then made president of Union College at Schenectady, N.Y., but he died before he could make much impression on the college. He edited some of his father's works and generally held to his doctrines, although in On the Necessity of the Atonement the younger Edwards expounded a theory of the Atonement that was more liberal and more popular than his father's theory.


See his works (2 vol., 1842) ed. by his grandson, T. Edwards.

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The following article is from The Great Soviet Encyclopedia (1979). It might be outdated or ideologically biased.

Edwards, Jonathan


Born Oct. 5, 1703, in East Windsor, Conn.; died Mar. 22,1758, in Princeton, N.J. American religious philosopher and Calvinist theologian; an opponent of atheism and materialism.

Edwards combined the mysticism of the Cambridge Platonists with views close to those of G. Berkeley and N. de Malebranche. For Edwards, god was the only reality and the cause of all that occurs. At the same time, he differed on a number of points from orthodox Calvinism. Edwards’ ideas were sharply criticized by members of the American Enlightenment.


Works, vols. 1–10. New York, 1829–30.
Selections From the Unpublished Writings of Jonathan Edwards. Edinburgh, 1865.


Iverach, J. Jonathan Edwards. Edinburgh, 1884.
Allen, A. V. G. Jonathan Edwards. Boston-New York, 1889.
MacCracken, J. H. Edwards’ Idealismus. Halle, 1899.
Parkes, H. B. Jonathan Edwards: The Fiery Puritan. New York, 1930.
Cherry, C. The Theology of Jonathan Edwards. Garden City, N.Y., 1968.
The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 3rd Edition (1970-1979). © 2010 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.

Edwards, Jonathan

(1703–58) Protestant clergyman, theologian; born in East Windsor, Conn. He entered Yale at age 13, graduated in 1720, and studied theology there for two years. He was a pastor in New York City briefly before returning to Yale as a tutor. In 1726 he became an assistant to his grandfather Solomon Stoddard as minister of the Northampton, Mass., Congregational Church; he succeeded Stoddard after his death in 1729. Imbued with an almost perversely stern Calvinist doctrine, he was a powerful preacher and is regarded as the greatest theologian of the extreme form of American Puritanism. His best-known sermon, "Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God," declared man's baseness and vividly described the conditions of damnation. In the early 1740s he helped inspire the religious revival ironically known as the Great Awakening. Dismissed from the Northampton pulpit in 1750 for overzealousness, he became a missionary to the Indian tribes around Stockbridge, Mass. In 1757 he was appointed president of the College of New Jersey (later Princeton), but died (from a smallpox inoculation) only a few weeks after taking office.
The Cambridge Dictionary of American Biography, by John S. Bowman. Copyright © Cambridge University Press 1995. Reproduced with permission.
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The son of Timothy Edwards, the minister of East Windsor, Connecticut, and the grandson of Solomon Stoddard, the pastor of Northampton, Massachusetts, Jonathan Edwards must have seemed to many in New England to have been predestined for the pulpit.
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